Activists claim logging rampant before polls

Source:  Phnom Penh Post 

A member of the Preah Vihear Community Forestry Network examines the remains of a resin tree that was illegally felled. Photo supplied

At least 66 resin trees in the Prey Preah Roka Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province’s Tbeng Meanchey district, have been felled so far this month, according to environmental activists.

They say deforestation continues to grow unabated, as authorities suspended or cut the number of patrols in the lead-up to the July 29 national elections.

Preah Vihear Community Forestry Network head Pich Porn said on Thursday that perpetrators had felled at least 66 resin trees in Pur commune in July, with other varieties of trees being logged, as authorities busy themselves with the election campaign.

“Nowadays, companies are less involved in clearing forests. But our community is very worried about the perpetrators who migrate from other provinces and fell trees to sell.

“For instance, 66 resin trees in the community were felled, costing villagers much of their income,” he said.

Rights group Adhoc’s provincial coordinator Lor Chan said forest destruction continues every day, without the taking authorities action. He suspects some people must be tipping off the loggers.

“I noticed that when officers went on patrols, the logging operations suddenly stopped and the perpetrators returned to their homes.”

“We do not know from where the loggers got the information [about when patrols would take place] and I do not dare accuse an official of conspiring with traders, “ he said.

However, Environment Ministry official Chin Monorith denied claims of widespread logging, saying people are preparing to go to the polls.

“It’s like there is no action. Rangers report daily and say it’s been quiet, nothing remarkable. I see our people preparing for the election,” he said.

Kampong Thom province’s Prey Lang community coordinator Hoeun Sopheap said the Prey Lang Community Network in Dangkambit commune had been patrolling the forest alongside the ministry’s rangers.

A 15-man team patrolled the forest from July 15 to 17 and found four chainsaws and a cubic metre of wood, he said.

He claimed a few bad apples among the rangers are in cahoots with the illegal loggers. “Some rangers seem less concerned about protecting the forest, and some have conspired to hand over [confiscated wood] to smugglers,” he claimed.

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